By Erik Jones
Normally, butchery is a red flag for many amateur and professional cooks. These days between your meat purveyor, local grocery store and butcher shop, meat can come to you in any way you could dream up. And yet people are still roasting whole turkeys, bones and all. Boning a raw turkey is relatively simple, and the benefits are definitely make the effort worthwhile. The bird roasts much faster and more evenly, and the presentation is more impressive to guests and customers. Without the breastbones and backbone carving is much easier and cleaner. Also, the raw bones produce a rich turkey stock, which you can use to make a sauce for the turkey dinner or a soup later in the week.
If you’re ambitious, brown the bones for a deeply-flavored roasted turkey dashi to elevate those ramen noodles during the winter months (or you’re cramming for finals week!).
The National Turkey Federation provides a great guide with pictures on the process here. From their website:
“The photos guide you through each step of the process. Just remember that your goal is to remove the central carcass with as little flesh on it as possible and without tearing up the meat. A sharp boning knife is essential for this task, but much of the work can actually be done with your thumb and forefinger. The serious knife work comes at the wing and thigh joints, where tough ligaments connect muscle to bone. If things get murky along the way, take a moment to figure out what’s holding everything together and then make a critical snip or two with the knife. Finally, you’ll need a long skewer for stitching up the bird afterwards.”
Separate the wing and thigh bones from the main skeleton.
- Remove the giblets and set them aside. Set the turkey, breast side down, on a stable work surface with the tail facing toward you. With a sharp boning knife, cut a straight line through the skin along the length of the backbone.
- Wedge the tip of the knife between the backbone and the skin at the top left hand side of the bird and, staying as close to the bone as possible, cut away the flesh between the backbone and the shoulder blade. Continue cutting away around this bone until you reach the wing joint. Use your thumb to free as much of the meat from the bone around the joint as you can and identify the connective tissues that will need to be snipped.
- With the blade pointing directly at the joint, cut the connective tissues. With a twisting motion, separate the wing from its socket.
- Working on the same side of the bird, use your knife and fingers to separate the flesh from the bone until you get to the joint where the hip meets the thigh. With the heel of your hand, press downward on the thigh until you feel it come free. Locate the tendons that connect the thigh bone to the hip socket and then snip those tendons. Cut any remaining connective tissue around the thigh joint, and free the thigh meat from the central skeletal structure. Using your thumb and knife as necessary, free the breast and thigh meat from the central skeletal structure all the way down to the sternum, which is the piece of cartilage that runs the length of the breast. The flesh is now freed from one half of the bird. Repeat steps 2 through 4 on the other side of the turkey. The bird should now be butterflied, with the carcass attached only at the sternum.
Cut through the sternum to remove the skeleton
- With one long cut, remove the central skeletal structure: Wrap one hand firmly around the bony carcass and use the other to cut through the cartilage of the sternum. Cut through 1/16 inch of the cartilage, lifting the carcass away and being careful not to cut through the flesh or skin beneath the sternum. Continue cutting from front to back until the carcass is freed.
From here you can go any direction you want. While sage, stuffing, cranberries, and the like are all flavors that combine great with turkey to bring a warm and fuzzy feeling to our heart as we remember Thanksgiving with family and friends, it isn’t very innovative. So how does turkey remain relevant outside of the winter holidays where it reigns supreme?
In addition to the Thanksgiving tradition, if you think of turkey just like any other protein, you have the potential to open up a new world of flavors.
At RCA Annual Conference 2016 in Denver, I ate at Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen on 14th Street in Historic Larimer Square. There I ate Pad Thai Pig Ears with tamarind chili sauce, scallion, peanut, egg, sprouts, mint, and cilantro. That dish really stood out to me. Not to be too cliché, but it really was a flavor explosion. Sour, sweet, spicy, fatty, chewy, and crunchy all at the same time…this dish had it all. It bordered on being overwhelming, but remained just inside the line to ensure it was really addictive. It was really a memorable eating experience. So they executed pig ears in a way that was so delicious that no one could turn down no matter how exotic the carrier.
Why not treat the turkey and its trimmings in a similar way? Inspired by Euclid, here is a fun way of serving turkey with unexpected, delicious flavors and umami-rich mouth aromas; that can be enjoyed for any occasion!
Southeast Asian-inspired Tamarind Turkey Roulade
- 1 Whole turkey, deboned (see above instructions or look it up on YouTube. Make sure the breasts are butterflied so there is an even layer of meat covering the skin)
- 10 ounces Tamarind (I prefer working with Wet Tamarind, which is basically just a big chunk of fruit, usually seedless, in a package, as oppose to Tamarind Concentrate. The concentrate is generally a lot sweeter and lacks that sour flavorful punch I look for from tamarind.)
- 3 oz Vietnamese Fish Sauce
- 3 oz Trumami Black Truffle Tamari (winner of the 2016 Culinology® Expo Product of the Year Award)
- 5 cup brown sugar
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 2-4 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce (depending on your preferred heat level)
- 2 cups cooked sweet glutinous rice
- 5 pound ground pork
- ½ cup rough chopped cilantro
- ½ cup sliced scallion
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- ½ chopped peanuts
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Boil about 4 ounces water, then pour it over the tamarind pulp until it is completely covered. Cover the bowl and let it steep for 15 minutes. Use a fork to break the tamarind apart and then let steep in the hot water for an additional 10 minutes.
- If you have cheese cloth, pour the tamarind through a few layers of cheese cloth into a bowl. Then squeeze the cloth until all the liquid is in the bowl. Discard the cheese cloth and the tamarind solids. Otherwise just push the liquid through a fine mesh strainer using a rubber spatula.
- Add the brown sugar, fish sauce, tamari, garlic, and sriracha to the tamarind liquid and stir into a smooth glaze.
- Mix your rice, pork, herbs, and peanuts, and 1.5 cup of the tamarind glaze in a bowl.
- Lay your deboned turkey out flat. Spread an even layer of the rice mixture on the inside, leaving about ½ inch around the edges. Starting at 1 end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll and tuck in any stuffing that tries to escape on the sides. Tie the roast firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder.
- Place the roulade seam side down on a well buttered sheet tray. Brush the turkey with the tamarind glaze.
- Roast for about 1.5-2 hours, brushing with glaze every 30 minutes. Check the turkey after 1.5 hours, and continue roasting until an instant read thermometer reads 150 degrees F throughout the roulade.
- Remove from heat, rest for 15 minutes, slice and serve.